Auckland’s restrictions could be eased next week
The government expects cases to plateau at 200 infections daily as high vaccine rates are starting to beat back the delta tide
Mōrena and welcome to The Bulletin for Tuesday, November 2, by Justin Giovannetti. Presented in partnership with Z Energy.
In today’s edition: Australia reopens to fully vaccinated residents; a look at NZ’s new climate target and Cop26; the future of Wellington transit; but first, Auckland’s reopening plan.
Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield. (Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)
Vaccination levels could soon start stemming Auckland’s outbreak. After nearly 11 weeks of lockdown, where Auckland has see-sawed between a surging vaccination programme and an aggressive delta outbreak, the vaccines might finally be getting the upper hand. That’s despite a record 156 cases reported in the city yesterday. As the NZ Herald reports, vaccination coverage could be high enough in three weeks’ time to stall Auckland’s outbreak. That’s based on projections released by director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield which forecast case numbers plateauing at 1400 infections per week by mid-November. Because of the high level of vaccination in the city, Bloomfield said Auckland’s hospitals are not likely to be overwhelmed by Covid-19.
One of the slides from Bloomfield’s powerpoint showing where cases are headed.
For the unvaccinated outside of Auckland, the clock is ticking. “We will not be able to contain it forever,” prime minister Jacinda Ardern warned the country yesterday, referring to the delta variant. Auckland’s border will be coming down eventually and the virus will not remain bottled up in the city, she said. “Auckland has given us time, time to vaccinate, and we must take it urgently.”
Restrictions will likely be eased in Auckland. After three months of lockdown, Aucklanders could move to step two, level three next week. Areas of Waikato in lockdown will be there first at midnight tonight. Step two has never been used before and it’ll be a tad confusing for many. Alice Neville has written an explainer for The Spinoff about the new step. In short, groups of up to 25 can now gather outside and shops can reopen under certain conditions.
It isn’t level two. Under the government’s current plan, Auckland will never return to level two but will transition to the new traffic light system once the city reaches its 90% vaccination target. There are no vaccine certificates in use yet and as National leader Judith Collins correctly pointed out yesterday, the unvaccinated will have more freedoms under next week’s step two than under next (hopefully) month’s traffic light system. Let’s focus on the next step for now.
Health experts are nervous about the move. “Previously, we worked very hard to eliminate every case. It was a simple strategy and one that we could all and did all get behind,” the prime minister said yesterday. It was striking that before Ardern spoke, the country had access to nearly all the data she had to make her decision. She’d teased Bloomfield’s projection in the morning and the day’s case numbers were announced hours earlier. Despite that, it was impossible to guess whether cabinet would interpret the data with caution or relief. In the end, it decided that 200 new cases a day will be Auckland’s future. As Stuff reports, the health experts aren’t so sure and warn that long Covid is a real risk for the country.
A note from The Spinoff publisher Duncan Greive: A year ago, The Spinoff recruited the vastly overqualified Lucy Blakiston to run our instagram. Her own Instagram, Shit You Should Care About, was already a sensation, with millions of fans around Aotearoa and across the globe. It was popular because she delivers world news and pop culture in a funny and approachable style. Now she runs Shit You Should Care About full-time out of The Spinoff offices and collaborates with us on multiple projects.
Why am I telling you this? Because Lucy recently launched her own super-fun daily email, which delivers the full SYSCA internet culture package to your inbox about the same time as The Bulletin. To try it out, sign up here.
Australia reopens to fully vaccinated citizens. The Guardian reports that for the first time in 583 days, Australians walked off airplanes and into the arms of families in tearful reunions at Sydney’s international airport yesterday. Quarantine is being waved for the fully vaccinated, with people from overseas allowed to leave the airport without restrictions. Traffic is also going the other way as fully vaccinated Australian residents and citizens can leave the country without asking for permission, with some taking flights to Los Angeles on holiday.
New Zealand won’t follow Australia’s example, with the Beehive only promising a system of mandatory home-isolation for fully vaccinated arrivals starting around the end of summer.
Tonga’s main island is in lockdown for a week. RNZ reports that the country’s first Covid case was detected in a traveller from Christchurch last week.
The Covid numbers: There are 53 cases in hospital and 3 in ICU/HDU. There are now 1,879 active cases in New Zealand. 156 new community cases were reported in Auckland yesterday, 5 in Waikato and 1 in Northland. 20,176 people were vaccinated on Sunday.
The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.
The new climate target will reduce emissions, but it might not be fair. There’s a real question about what a fair reduction in emissions would look like. While the prime minister is satisfied the new target is enough, her climate minister isn’t so sure. Newsroom looks at the plan and James Shaw’s obvious reservations when he presented it. The new target is an improvement over the previous plan from the National government and includes cutting more emissions domestically. The NZ Herald (paywalled) writes that we need to do a lot more, faster.
Property owners could turn to lawyers to thwart denser cities. Thomas Coughlan reports in the NZ Herald that officials have warned the government that lawyered-up property owners could threaten housing rules Labour wants to pass along with National. In advice, officials say owners could use legal restrictions on land use, including development covenants and cross leases, to restrict how property could be used for years to come. If implemented, the restrictions could maintain inner city neighbourhoods at suburban levels of density for generations.
The future of Wellington’s transit system. A light rail system connecting Wellington station to Island Bay is the centrepiece of a plan to remake the capital’s transport system, according to the Dominion Post. Four options are being considered, all plan for a new Mount Victoria tunnel (without car lanes), three involve light rail and the end of the roundabout at the Basin Reserve. The most expensive option would cost $7.4 billion, slightly less than the government expects it would cost to build Auckland’s light rail system.
We need to talk about Bird of the Year. On his first day as The Spinoff’s new editor-at-large, after stepping out of the top job, Toby Manhire has taken on the pekapeka-tou-roa. Instead of a bat the size of your thumb, Toby has provided an exhaustive list of other things he thinks should win Bird of the Year. Fitting the new custom, none of them are birds.
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Right now on The Spinoff: Mirjam Guesgen warns that a summer of wild weather is coming, with flash floods in the north and scorchers in the south. Writing for IRL, Josie Adams explains what the Metaverse is, the thing central to Facebook’s rebranding. Chris Schulz reports on why your favourite podcast is probably on Spotify now. The Spinoff’s writers (partner content) look at what’s new on all the streaming services this month, including Marvel’s first attempt at Christmas.
For a longer read, the small group of New Zealand doctors who still oppose public health measures. Over five million deaths from Covid-19 have now been recorded globally, although the true number is believed to be much higher. Here in New Zealand, there are a small but growing number of protests against vaccinations and public health measures, Charlie Mitchell reports for Stuff. Those protests are cheered on by a very, very small number of doctors. Here’s some of what Charlie wrote:
It doesn’t matter that, when the pandemic began, many of the group’s doctors were already outside the mainstream, working in integrative or holistic medicine. Only a handful work as GPs in clinics within the mainstream medical system, and none appear to actively work in hospitals as emergency doctors, where the sickest Covid-19 patients are likely to end up. Some are dentists, psychologists and cosmetic doctors, who have no special insight into the dynamics of infectious disease.
But at a critical time in this country’s pandemic journey, when every vaccinated person counts, the role of doctors in fuelling the Infodemic deserves scrutiny.
It’s Melbourne cup day. The race that stops two nations is on this afternoon, according to Stuff, which looks at nearly every New Zealand connection to the event you can think of. If you know very little about the horse race, this is a quick explainer.
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